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Ape Quartet #1


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The compelling tale of a girl who must save a group of bonobos--and herself--from a violent coup.

The Congo is a dangerous place, even for people who are trying to do good.

When one girl has to follow her mother to her sanctuary for bonobos, she's not thrilled to be there. It's her mother's passion, and she'd rather have nothing to do with it. But when revolution breaks out and their sanctuary is attacked, she must rescue the bonobos and hide in the jungle. Together, they will fight to keep safe, to eat, and to survive.

Eliot Schrefer asks readers what safety means, how one sacrifices to help others, and what it means to be human in this new compelling adventure.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2012

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About the author

Eliot Schrefer

36 books884 followers
ELIOT SCHREFER is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

Also: I love marshmallows and early twentieth century fiction. And apes.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,050 reviews
Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
Author 83 books167k followers
June 25, 2012
Five Things about Endangered:

1. This is the first five star review I've given that is five stars for how I would've viewed this book as the target audience. This book is an upper YA, and although I enjoyed it, it would've made my eyes huge with wonder and shock as a fourteen year old unaware of the history of the Congo. I'm quite pleased to imagine it making its way into the hands of teens now, though. It's one of those books that makes you look at your own culture a little differently; makes your world a little stretchier.

2. This book is not for everyone. Bad Things happen. I mean, it is not Little Bee, which caused me much rocking and moaning in the corner. But it is not The House at Pooh Corner either (I first typed that as the House at Poo Corner, which would have been a very different sort of book. Possibly one that would make me rock and moan). I've previously recommended Lucy Christopher's Stolen and Ruta Sepatys' Between Shades of Gray, and I'd say it would definitely appeal to folks who liked both of those. Definitely it has that gritty sense of place and history that seems to evade Pooh Corner.

3. This book is about bonobos. They are apes. That means they have no tail. We also have no tail. Bonobos, as you can see, are quite like us.

4. Tigger is not in this book. Unless he is a bonobo. Man, I really enjoy saying that word out loud. Go ahead. Try it.

5. This book reminded me a little bit of those old-fashioned adventure stories I read growing up. There's something a bit timeless about the telling of it, about the girl-and-an-animal element, about the questing-for-safety. Something familiar. It's not a book that changed my life now. But it would've changed my life then, and for that, five stars.
Profile Image for Monica Edinger.
Author 10 books336 followers
October 22, 2012
I absolutely did not want to read this book. The advance reader copy sat on my shelf for months untouched as I assumed it was yet another book offering a simplistic view of Africa, one that focused on the plight of an exotic animal while barely acknowledging the complications of the people who lived around it. Having lived in Sierra Leone for two years in the 70s, I'm techy about how the continent is represented, especially by well-intentioned outsiders who focus on its animals at the expense of its people. That said, I know that it is very, very hard to even begin to present to anyone, much less to a young person, the horrible complicated conflicts such as what happened in Sierra Leone a decade ago and what is still happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Still it was only when I saw that the book was a finalist for the National Book Award that I finally picked it up. And then did not put it down again until I was done.

The story is from the point of view of Sophie, the product of a Congolese mother who runs a sanctuary for rescued bonobos and an American father. When her parents split up, because schooling would be better in the States she returned there with her father, coming back during vacations to be with her mother. As the book begins Sophie is traveling to her mother's sanctuary when she spots a young bonobo with a trader and buys him, recklessly ignoring the Congolese sanctuary worker who tells her they never do that, it will cause problems, that they only rescue those that are brought to them.

At the sanctuary Sophie works to save the young ape whom she names Otto. It takes no time at all for the two of them to become permanently connected, Sophie functioning as the young bonobo's mother. Schrefer quickly and effectively gives us a sense of the sanctuary, of Sophie's mother, the other workers, and the specifics of the bonobos who are the closest of the great apes to humans. Schrefer, without sentimentality, again and again throughout the book shows readers this commonality, making readers think hard about ourselves as humans and our relationship to others in this world.

Shortly after Sophie's arrival the war arrives at the sanctuary. Schrefer does not shy away at his depiction of the horrors of this. In fact, it was this that won me over completely. For I followed closely the conflict in Sierra Leone, a place I knew well long ago, and there are many commonalities to what has happened in the DRC; the drugged child-soldiers, the frightened villagers, the many dreadful things that have been reported from both regions are all too familiar to me. Schrefer presents them truthfully, at times terrifyingly, and sensitively all steadfastly through Sophie's eyes.

Unable to abandon Otto, instead of leaving the country with the UN, Sophie flees with him. At first she stays with other bonobos, but eventually she has to leave them too and sets out on a difficult journey to find her mother who had been releasing bonobos back into the wild in another part of the country when the war began.

Sophie is a remarkable character, full of grit and gumption, and readers are bound to be riveted as her efforts to save Otto and herself are tested again and again as they make their journey. Schrefer does an amazing job communicating their physical and emotional hardships, giving readers a feel for the community and ways of the bonobos and how they link to us humans, and also a straightforward view of the way the conflict affects humans as well, both the victims and the transgressors.

By the end, I was completely won over. Schrefer has crafted an outstanding work about Africa, about bonobos, and about the complexities of the relationship we humans have with the world around us.
Profile Image for Shomeret.
1,048 reviews204 followers
January 1, 2013
This is a YA book for mature readers who don't flinch from reading about horrific violence against animals and human beings. It's about a very courageous fourteen year old girl whose mother runs a sanctuary for bonobo apes in a country in chaos where bonobos are sold on the black market and routinely slaughtered. It's an extremely powerful book and an important one.

I also very much liked the interview with author Eliot Schrefer at the back of the book. I found it very insightful. I was very interested in what he has to say about why bonobos are so radically different from chimps, and the implications this has for humans. Schrefer was asked whether it's ethical to concern ourselves with the mistreatment of animals when humans are in crisis. He responded that the same people who are cruel toward animals will also be cruel to humans that they believe are lower status, and that it's essentially the same problem. Feminists have had the same insight about violence against women and children. People who are obsessed with their lack of power are deranged by it.

This is the last book I read in 2012 for the Around the World challenge, and I thought Schrefer was equally insightful about the problems of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where this book takes place. I do consider it my top read of 2012.

Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,684 reviews124 followers
May 1, 2013
I started twiddling out reviews as a class assignment two years ago thinking it would help me remember novels when book-talking with students. Lo and behold, this reflection process has been like a boiling hotpot with questions bubbling to the surface as I bumble along. What makes children's books great versus average or what makes picture books rise to an artistic level? What began as an assignment has morphed into an enjoyable blogging journey into the world of children's literature. A common element inked in good children's books is they speak to both children and adults with various interpretations based on experience and this novel is no exception. I often have students point out a theme or picture detail that I missed or didn't notice as an adult, while I might point out a theme or detail from my perspective as an adult that they don't see.

When Sophie saves a baby bonobo ape off the street of Kinshasa, Congo, in chapter one, I applaud her courage for doing the right thing, but I also think of her as an impulsive teenager who is not thinking about the consequences of her actions. As an adult, I would have called her mother before making that decision because I know that traffickers and poachers are dangerous. Sophie's mother has been running a bonobo sanctuary for over six years and has the knowledge and tools to deal with this type of situation. Sophie, who grew up in the Congo, has lived for the past six years with her father in the United States. Their parents are divorced and Sophie is visiting her mom for the summer. A young reader will probably side with Sophie's actions. She is fourteen-years-old and when she sees a half-starved bonobo, she rescues it. Shucks, her mom owns a sanctuary and will be happy, right? Wrong.

Sophie's youthfulness and innocence makes her noble and seemingly right decision to save the bonobo tragic because the action is ultimately the wrong one. The moral dilemma facing Sophie is a driving force in the novel as she discovers that she can't save the bonobos one at a time like she does with the trafficker on the street, but must consider the endangered animals from a sociologically viewpoint; she must think about how the problem is reflected in the poverty of the Congolese people and the history of colonial abuse from foreigners that have stripped the Congo of its rich resources.

She learns this lesson throughout the novel when the capital city of Kinshasa is overthrown and the president murdered. Militiamen and boys take to the streets shooting and butchering people with machetes. When the sanctuary gets attacked and rebels take over, Sophie flees to the forest with the bonobos learning to survive in the wild and trying to reunite with her mother who happened to be in a remote area north of the capital releasing bonobos into the wild.

The constant tension from Sophie's life being threatened, by either the rebel soldiers or bonobos as she figures out their hierarchy, makes this a page turner. Her discomfort of living in the jungle and dealing with mosquitoes, leeches, crickets, and more, involve the reader's senses creating a vivid atmosphere and setting. Sophie doesn't dwell on the deaths of people, she's too busy trying to survive and she forces traumatic thoughts out of her mind. I thought it might be dealt with after the ordeal but the author skips ahead about four years. While some might not like this, it does make it more suitable for young readers who will focus more on the adventures than horrors of war.

This doesn't mean that the author skips the ugliness of war; just that the violence occurs after-the-fact versus a graphic description of someone being killed. One section becomes particularly intense when Sophie has to deal with a drunk boy soldier. Earlier, an adult explains to Sophie how young boys are snatched to become soldiers and must fight each other to the death. Without giving away any of the plot Sophie cleverly works her way out of what could have been a violent rape situation. It probably isn't realistic but the author portrays the boy soldier as just as much a victim as Sophie; thus making it appropriate for a younger audience. While there is violence, it is toned down (moreso than books like, "Code Name Verity"); Sophie might stumble over a body or hear screams that suddenly stop, but that is about it.

I was first introduced to the Congo in books such as "Heart of Darkness," by Joseph Conrad and "The Poisonwood Bible," by Barbara Kingsolver. These aren't accessible for younger readers and it is fantastic all the great childrens books being written that help build responsible citizens and impress the inseparable connections between humans, animals, and the environment. I have read a bundle of books like this lately. If you want more try: "The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate (2013 Newbery winner), that deals with treatment of animals and the ethics of zoos; "Moonbird" by Philip Hoose (2013 Siebert finalist), that deals with the extinction of a species and how it impacts the fragile ecosystems; or "A Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue park, that shows the difference a water well can make in the war-torn country of Sudan. These stories need to be heard. A great read.
Profile Image for Laura McNeal.
Author 14 books272 followers
October 10, 2015
This is a great book in two important ways: 1) it's an eloquent, deeply empathetic book about being a young, vulnerable person in the midst of a violent civil war, and 2) the young, vulnerable person is given an even smaller, more vulnerable creature to protect and save. I think the second part illustrates the singular role that young people's literature can play in the world, and how it differs from regular coming-of-age novels written for adults.

To tell a story about a 14-year-old Congolese-American girl trapped in a bonobo sanctuary by a war (one in which machetes are used in frighteningly realistic ways), and to imagine that this story might be about her survival, is incredibly audacious. Some might even say implausible. But adventure stories with young narrators have always been implausible. The hero or heroine always survives and/or triumphs against incredible odds. The trick--the beautiful, saving trick--is to make the reader care enough about the heroine and believe enough in her wit and pluck to trigger that accommodation we make mentally in a book, where we go, "Okay, yes, it's really unlikely that this character could survive this, but oooooh I'm so glad she did." I think we're especially likely to want to do this--to suspend our disbelief--in a book with young protagonists that's principally aimed at young readers. One of the ways that Schrefer softens the truth without perverting or destroying it is that he takes the animal-child bonding story (my favorite of this type being Where the Red Fern Grows) and sets it in an African country during a war. Is it scary? Yes. Will readers experience the kind of pain that comes from reading about the suffering of apes and people? Yes. But that type of suffering does occur--Schrefer isn't making it up to make the story more dramatic. Through Sophie's travels, the reader will see real places inhabited by real, complex animals and complex people, and the reader will be able to endure her painful discoveries (and enjoy her triumphs) for the same reason that Sophie can endure them: she wants, above all else, to save the little ape that needs her. Of all the feelings to learn about through literature, I can think of none more ennobling than that: You may not be strong all by yourself, but you can be incredibly strong for someone (or something) smaller and more helpless.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 87 books1,476 followers
December 27, 2012
I've always felt like the big issues of our world - war, politics, conservation - are best understood not in the context of great big international features in the New York Times but through the personal stories, and ENDANGERED is one of those. Set in war torn Congo, this is the story of a girl and the bonobo she saves, who ends up saving her right back. It's part survival story, part adventure, part coming-of-age tale, and all wonderful. Recommended for ages 12 and up, with the understanding that the violence of civil war isn't sugar coated here. This is a book that will leave thoughtful readers with a bigger view of the world in all its beauty and in all its sadness, too.

I support independent bookstores. To find one near you or order ENDANGERED from one online, visit: http://www.indiebound.org/book/978054...
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 34 books218 followers
July 6, 2012
Did you know that bonobos are great apes (not monkeys)? Did you know that Endangered is a great book (about apes)? It is. This book is awesome. Sophie and Otto's desperate journey makes for a gripping story, and the war-torn Congo provides a fascinating and gritty backdrop. And oh those bonobos! The descriptions of their behavior and interactions are fascinating and expertly woven into the narrative. Two opposable thumbs up!
Profile Image for Emmy Gregory.
157 reviews66 followers
April 15, 2015
The problem I had with this book is that the main protagonist is a stupid impulsive brat who brings everything bad that happens to her onto herself by being a complete idiot. I couldn't get past that. The writing isn't bad, exactly, but it's not good enough to make up for this flaw with the character. I wanted to punch her.
Profile Image for Eric.
74 reviews21 followers
June 1, 2020
A must-read!! Gripping all the way through!
Profile Image for Joanna Marple.
Author 1 book48 followers
February 6, 2013
Synopsis: Sophie is a spunky, honest and intelligent fourteen year-old. She is biracial, with an Italian American father and Congolese mother, who are divorced. Though in high school in the US, she spends her summers at her mother’s bonobo sanctuary just outside Kinshasa, trying to bond with her distant mother, but also sharing her mother’s passion for these endangered apes. The day of her arrival for her summer stay, she makes a poor judgment call, though out of compassion, and we find her in the opening pages bonding with a young, rescued, orphan bonobo, named Otto.

When the war hits Kinshasa, a day after her mother has left to release some bonobos elsewhere in Congo, everything changes for Sophie as the story develops into one of her own flight and survival rather than just the saving of one baby bonobo. Sophie has to grow up rapidly if she’s going to survive this insurgency. When rebels take over the capitol, and move on to destroy and pillage the villages and the sanctuary, Sophie, who should have gone on a UN transport, finds herself locked in a “safe” electrified jungle zone with some bonobos. But once the electricity is down, she is no longer safe from the rebels, who have killed most of her mother’s coworkers. Her long journey to find her mother who is at a release site is fraught with the inevitable dangers of a young female girl in a war zone. The way she encounters each challenge is what makes this story unique.

Why I like this book: Having lived through an attempted coup d’état in Togo, and having observed the conflict in neigbouring West African nations, as well as being a passionate advocate for endangered species, I opened this book with excitement and trepidation. It is extremely difficult to even begin to present to anyone the horrific and complicated conflicts such as what happened in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast or the food crises and conflicts in recent years in Somalia and Ethiopia, as well as what is still happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also as a passionate animal advocate, I recognize it is also very difficult for outsiders who focus on animal welfare, to comprehend the needs of a people in the depths of poverty. I could not put this book down and read it in two days. Schrefer’s research is impeccable, and while he takes pains to indicate this is fictional, he has crafted an outstanding work about a central African nation, about the bonobo species, and about the complex and relationship we humans have with the world around us, and how context is vital in interpreting events and actions.

The narrative is gripping from page one and Sophie faces horrific challenges in a credible way as a mature biracial teen with a dependent. Does Otto save Sophie, or Sophie save Otto? I don’t know, but from what I have read about the bonobo, the relationship Shefer develops between to toddler ape and adolescent is enchanting and realistic. This relationship between a peace-loving ape and its surrogate mother, and this growing bond, are the focus of the narrative against the backdrop of the typical violence, fear, violation and desperation that a corrupt, weakened war-torn nation brings. Sophie’s courage, wisdom, maturity and tenacity win over the reader from the early pages, when she won’t abandon Otto to be airlifted to security. Amongst the decimation and evil, there are also some samaritans along the way, who, as is so often my experience in developing nation, share their little to help Sophie and Otto.

It is artfully written and I felt myself re-experiencing the humidity and insect-infestation of the jungle, the dry manioc fields, the hollow sunken faces of people starving to death. This remind me of the Patty McCormick novels I have read, and won’t leave a reader unchanged. I feel Schrefer pulled off exceptionally well the challenging task of depicting an authentic Italian-American/Congolese teenager, though I confess occasionally some of Sophie’s socio-political awareness seemed very advanced for a fourteen year-old. Endangered is a gutsy, suspenseful, moving adventure story of survival that that will linger long in your heart. The book engaged my emotions and intellect, which I love. I think this will remain one of my favorite books of 2013. I highly recommend it, to teens and adults, male and female. It truly is the sort of book I would like to write!

An author’s note, Q&A session about the book and details about inspiration and research both into Congolese history and bonobos, are valuable resources at the back of the book. In the interview, Schefer is asked whether it’s ethical to concern ourselves with the mistreatment of animals when humans are in crisis. He responded that the same people who are cruel toward animals will also be cruel to humans that they believe have a lower status, and that it’s essentially the same problem.

Bonobo Facts and Status:

Bonobos are found only within the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. Together with common chimpanzees, they are man’s closest living relatives. Unlike chimpanzees, they are a peaceful and matriarchal society. Sex is an everyday affair in bonobo society, and is liberally used to create bonds between individuals, as well as for reproduction. That said, during periods of rest grooming is the activity of choice, and is thought to provide group cohesion and ease tension. Bonobos are born helpless, and females provide the majority of the parental, since paternity is usually unclear.

There are no concrete data on population numbers, but the estimate is between 29,500 and 50,000 individuals. The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by habitat destruction and human population growth and movement, though commercial poaching is the most prominent threat.
Profile Image for LibraryCin.
2,253 reviews46 followers
March 1, 2020
14-year old Sophie is half Congolese and half American. She mostly lives in Miami with her father, but comes back to the Democratic Republic of Congo to live with her mother in the summers. Sophie’s mom runs a bonobo sanctuary. On the way to the sanctuary, Sophie insists on buying a baby bonobo from a trafficker. She only wants to save the little bonobo she calls Otto, but she doesn’t initially realize that although she has helped Otto, overall, it’s not a good idea to buy from the traffickers.

In any case, she is now in charge of taking care of Otto and helping him live. Not long before Sophie is to head back to Miami, her mother has to leave to release some of the bonobos back into the wild. Not long after her mother leaves, civil war breaks out...

Of course, I love animals, so right off the bat, I’m loving the bonobos and the sanctuary. Once the war starts, it is almost non-stop suspense. Not only – how will Sophie get out of this, but what will happen to Otto and the other bonobos? Keep Kleenex handy. Ugly crying all the way. Loved this book! There is also an interview with the author at the end. And, I am happy to see that this is part of a series.
Profile Image for Estelle.
862 reviews80 followers
April 30, 2013
Review originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog

A powerful departure from a world of love triangles, high school drama, and gossip, Endangered is an addictive and emotional read about a girl named Sophie, who is visiting her mother in the Congo during her summer break. Her mother has dedicated her life to the bonobo – a chimp-like animal who is actually the human’s closest relative (we share 98.7% of the same DNA). Ironically, her mother’s dedication to keeping the bonobos safe in an enclosure she maintains has severed her own connection with Sophie.

Rightfully, Sophie doesn’t want much to do with the bonobos but when she sees one in danger, she pays to take him, and they are instantly bond. She’s not supposed to pay for the bonobos – ones taken from the Congo have been ripped from their environment because more than likely their mother has been killed – and the promise of money only inspires unscrupulous people to repeat this practice. But Otto isn’t well, and Sophie can’t bear the thought of letting him live that way.

The bond between Sophie and Otto is evident from the very beginning. At times, he feels like her child and her sibling, and as I got deeper into the story, I sometimes forgot that he was a wild animal at all. When an attack breaks out and the bonobo sanctuary is threatened, Sophie and Otto support and help each other. Schrefer has created such an environment that Endangered almost feels dystopian in ways. It’s a world that we don’t often hear about, and the book takes an intense turn when Sophie must rely on nature for survival and trust in Otto.

Lush and breathtaking, but dangerous and ominous, this novel becomes its own living and breathing entity, so much so that I had to close and reopen just to catch my breath.

Expertly, Schrefer weaves together Sophie’s own memories of her parents with the political unrest in the Congo. The parallels drawn between these animals and Sophie’s own relationship with her mother are subtly and effectively done. (“Being someone’s child was always tough, always in its own way.”) In fact, I never once thought I would have such a strong reaction to this book. But it was so incredibly relatable: the will we have to survive, the complex relationships we have with our parents, and how we might have more in common with the animal kingdom than we think.

This book is a triumph in so many ways. The first 100 pages are jam-packed with so much detail and content, I felt like I had read 200 and in a good way. I never felt overwhelmed, just thrust into this world and its characters. It’s beautiful, quotable writing and challenging too — most of the time Sophie is an observer and hanging out with bonobos so there is very little dialogue. But I never missed it. There is so much said with action and movement and small behaviors that Schrefer created his own language. In general, the author does a tremendous job of burying the cultural divide Sophie feels in the beginning (she grew up in the Congo but moved back to the U.S. with her dad) as the story moves deeper and deeper into the Congo; it makes you extremely aware of how distinctly different life can be.

As a whole, Endangered has the feel of those naturalistic but intense novels from my childhood (Lord of the Flies, Bridge to Terabithia, Julie & the Wolves) because it can be enjoyed by both sexes equally and forces great discussions, while beaming with this timeless quality. Sure, Endangered might not be the typical contemporary young adult novel that everyone flocks to, but it is certainly one that is worth stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing; it’s the perfect balance of environment and emotion, family and connection — familiar themes in literature that are made refreshing and new.
Profile Image for Mary.
2,601 reviews11 followers
December 16, 2012
A heartwrenching novel about a fourteen-year-old American-Congolese girl and her harrowing adventure to save an endangered bonobo in the wartorn Democratic Republic of Congo. Schrefer has done a great deal of research to make this true to the circumstances and does not sugarcoat the terrible truth of the human and animal suffering that is created by greed and corruption. A riveting story that makes you care about the human characters and animals, that explains with a good story the current events, and ultimately leaves you with some hope that love and education can make a difference.
Profile Image for Wendy.
951 reviews138 followers
January 29, 2013
Weirdly telescoped in the last third. I'd expected the first third to take up the whole book, but it wasn't just that... things just happened very fast, without the level of detail I'd become accustomed to. But overall, enjoyed this very much. It has a very Hunger Gamesy vibe to it, for people who liked Hunger Games for the reasons I did. (Girl surviving in the woods!)
Profile Image for Laura Phelps.
604 reviews10 followers
August 16, 2012
I loved everything about this book. The setting was compelling, the characters (both human and primate) were exceptionally well drawn, and the storyline was absolutely riveting.
Profile Image for Andrea McDonald.
149 reviews4 followers
September 23, 2017
An outstanding book - it gripped me all the way through. I'm very much looking forward to sharing this as a read-aloud with my students - or at least excerpts of it. I'm also excited about meeting Eliot Schrefer when he comes to visit UWC in November. The hope that the wildlife of the Congo can be saved is brought to light - in stark contrast to the plight of its people and their need to survive - often at the expense of wildlife. I remember many years ago, when I was in Uganda, I went on a hike with my friend and about 5 armed soldiers and we crossed into the Congo at the top of Magahinga National Park. The gorillas of Uganda are a treasure and a magnet for tourists and money....one can hope that eventually, the Congo will also see the protection of wildlife as an opportunity.
Profile Image for Richie Partington.
1,082 reviews128 followers
October 22, 2012
Richie’s Picks: ENDANGERED by Elliot Schrefer, Scholastic Press, November 2012, 272p., ISBN: 978-0-545-16576-1

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” – John Muir, as quoted in Phillip Hoose’s MOONBIRD (2012)

“Imagine all the people living life in peace”
-- John Lennon (1971)

“The men said something in Swahili, then suddenly they were all moving toward me. I was nervous, but not really scared – I was only a hundred yards away from the sanctuary entrance, and if I sprinted, they wouldn’t be able to catch me before I got to safety. But then I saw one man reach down beside a tree and pick something up – a rifle.
“All of a sudden the trail was full of movement. I heard a loud crack from above, and then Otto was on the ground before me. He held out his arms to make himself look bigger and stormed the men, barking loudly. They jumped and fled a ways down the path before it must have come to them that the charging monster was only two feet tall. When the men stopped, Otto lost his nerve and ran headlong back to me, nearly bowling me over when he leaped into my arms. He barked at the men, buried his head in my chest in fear, barked again, then hid his face away.
“Three of the men started laughing, but the smallest one was rattled; he lifted his rifle and aimed it at us.”

By all measures, The Democratic Republic of Congo is a deadly place. Reading ENDANGERED, I am glad for not having been born there. It is a land where 5.4 million people have died over the past quarter-century in the deadliest war since WWII. (I can imagine my mouth getting me killed twice a week in a place like that.)

It was into this world that fourteen year-old Sophie had been born to a Congolese mother and an American father. When she was eight, her father needed to move back to the U.S. for work and concluded that Sophie should be enrolled in American schools. Despite his pleas, her mother would not accompany them because she has established the only sanctuary in the world devoted to bonobos.

And, so, as the story begins, Sophie has begun her summer vacation with a trans-Atlantic flight from the U.S. to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is being chauffeured by one of her mother’s employees through traffic-congested, dangerous roads to the bonobo sanctuary. While on their way and nearing a checkpoint:

“A man was approaching each car as it slowed. At first I thought he was a simple beggar, but then I saw he was dragging a small creature by its arms. I crawled over the gearshift and into the front seat to see better.
“It was a baby ape. As the man neared each car, he yanked upward so that it opened its mouth into a wide grin, feet pinwheeling as it tried to find the ground. The man had a lame foot but got around agilely, his scabby stump pivoting and tilting as he maneuvered. Behind him was a rusty bike with a wooden crate lashed to the back, which he must have been using to transport the ape.”

Disregarding the instructions of the chauffer, Sophie bolts from the slow-moving car, engages the man in conversation and negotiation, and pays him for the sick/starving/maimed baby bonobo ape that will be known as Otto. Otto will survive, eventually thrive, and will become Sophie’s steadfast companion and her key to breaking into bonobo society – which is one of the challenges that this teen girl will face in the horrific ordeal that is about to befall her.

The endangered bonobo apes, and the war that endangers everybody and everything, are the foundations of this fast-paced, mind-blowing survival story and historical fiction gem that was just named a National Book Award finalist in the young people’s literature category.

But to me, it is a wealth of moral dilemmas that makes ENDANGERED such a rich read and elevates it above other horrors-of-war tales that are readily found in young people’s literature.

For instance, we are faced with the question of whether or not Sophie should have saved the near-to-death Otto by paying that guy. In her negotiations with him, she accidentally mentions that her mother runs the bonobo sanctuary. Not long after the transaction in which Sophie purchased Otto for what is, in that country, an astronomical sum of American cash, the same man shows up at the sanctuary with a pair of even-younger baby bonobos to sell. We learn that the man would necessarily have killed the bonobo mothers in order to gain possession of the babies, and we come to recognize that in saving Otto (and ignoring her mother’s rules that they never purchased), Sophie has been responsible for bonobo deaths.

Then, there is the issue of Sophie’s mother having chosen her work in protecting the bonobos over being a hands-on mother to Sophie. I can imagine some animated discussions over this decision.

Why some may ask, when the world is so screwed up for so many people, do some of us care so much about the various domesticated and wild non-human species like these bonobos. Why not put our efforts into saving humans?

In response, I might ask whether our being fascinated by and caring about the multitude of creatures with whom we share this planet is one of the very things that makes us (or makes some of us) human.

And I’ve got to think that John Muir is right. It sure seems that every time we lose one of those threads, the planet looks and feels a bit more shabby for it.

Richie Partington
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
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Profile Image for Jolene.
Author 1 book20 followers
August 16, 2021
My gut reaction after closing this book was, Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

I don't know, man. I'm trying to stay positive because I think 14/15-year-olds could really like it. It's about protecting an animal and will open up the conversation about how much responsibility humans have for animal lives and will probably force some visceral reactions at Sophie's choices (even if those reactions are groans).

I guess I'm just annoyed because I'm teaching a freshman World Studies class this year and initially had The Marrow Thieves on my syllabus. Then after hearing from a few teachers who had taught each book in the past, I switched out The Marrow Thieves for Endangered. I had only read the first few chapters of each when I had to make the decision, so here we are. But now that I've finished both books, I kind of wish I could go back and change my mind again. For one thing, Endangered is the opposite of an #OwnVoices text: Eliot Schrefer is a white American guy who read about bonobos on the Internet and got so into them that he decided to write a novel set in Congo. Does his identity automatically invalidate the book? I don't think so. But it is certainly something to keep in mind when choosing which voices to focus on in the classroom and which authors to support through classroom book purchases.

But maybe more importantly for English class, Endangered's writing and plot development are just ...kind of bad. I often found myself writing things like "DUMB!" or "Convenient..." or "Ugh" in my copy of the book. But again, I'm not the audience here. If students READ the book, that's a win. So I'm willing to be open-minded here and give it a fair shot. If student's like it, I'll even consider using it again in the future. I mean, the point is for them to read, to enjoy reading.

And I hope the book will lead to interesting and meaningful discussions about the legacy of colonialism and resource exploration in Congo (and Africa, more widely) -- as well as environmental concerns, including the human impact on endangered species. In the Q&A at the end of the book, Schrefer says, "It's an irony about Africa that it's most resource-rich countries are often its most unstable." Ironically, perhaps, I hope my students walk away from this book recognizing that there's nothing ironic about that. It's systemic.

Anyway. I'll come back and update this review once we've read it as a class.
Profile Image for Laura (booksnob).
934 reviews35 followers
June 4, 2020
This book is amazing. I couldn't stop turning the pages and I fell in love with the characters and the bonobos and the people in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) who help to save them. The youth I read the book with were greatly impacted by the story.
Profile Image for Rachel Patrick.
295 reviews207 followers
January 10, 2013
First and foremost, let me tell you something: this is not your typical Young Adult novel. It's different--but it's a very, very good different. It's realistic fiction, a sort of contemporary, non-fiction book. It's not a romance novel--but there is love. The love of life, the love of people, and the love of one very special bonobo.

I stumbled upon this book by chance, and thank gosh I did. I was looking at upcoming releases on Barnes and Nobles in their Teen section, and I stopped when I saw a cover with a chimpanzee on it. (Note: Chimpanzees are not monkeys, so please don't call them that. To learn what is a monkey and what is not, look at this.) I've always loved animals, including primates, and after taking a Primatology class I was even more in love. So imagine how I felt when I found this book--I flipped, and I wanted it badly. Now I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner, because Endangered was stunning, fantastic, lovely--so, so good.

This book gave me all the feels. From smiles to terror to tears, it hit me. I enjoyed reading it. The book begins in action, with Sophie finding Otto (a young bonobo) and saving him. Then several things happen, and war hits the Congo, and it hits hard. That's when I started to get scared, wondering what would happen to Sophie and my lovely Otto. The book is told from her point of view, and for almost its entirety she's with Otto--therefore, it felt like I was with Otto. I loved Sophie and Otto--she fought for Otto, refused to leave his side, and I loved it. I fell in love with Otto, wanting to spend 24/7 with him myself. Closing the book and leaving their story was something I didn't want to do but had to, and it was heart-wrenching.

While it's a shorter book, it's still packed full of scenes--but it doesn't feel like an information overload. Endangered is about Sophie getting from Point A to Point B in a war zone--along with caring for a bonobo. To see how horrible the Congo was (in the book, not in real-life) was crazy, and it really freaked me out. There was so much murder, not to mention all the suffering people were going through. Without going into too much detail--and just pushing the boundaries when it came to it--Schrefer painted a picture, and it was amazing. And his writing was spot-on. It wasn't too much, and it wasn't too little--it was just right. I saw pretty much no errors, and it flowed and was beautiful and it just worked. Sometimes, writing can ruin a book. But this just made it better. Simple, with just the right amount of detail. Loved it.

I could probably go on and on about this book, so I'm just going to say a few more quickish things. For one, I wish there were more books like this, books that show other parts of the world that are less fortunate, books about fighting for what I want to fight for and work with so, so much: animals. This book is underrated/understated. I don't think enough people have read it or heard about it, so I'm telling you right now: read this book. I think you'll learn something. And now I'm going to stop, because I'm about to start crying again. I ended this book sobbing, you know. Legitimate sobbing, my neck and ends of my hair drenched in my tears. (It may be a happy cry, it may be a sad cry, or it may be both--I'm not telling you.) This book is beautiful and breathtaking and stunning, and I know it's up for some big award (National Book Award finalist!)--I sure do hope it wins. And I'll end this with the words that were running through my head as I read the last page (disclaimer: Goodreads says Endangered ends at 272 pages, when the story ends on 250. I just thought I'd let you know so your soul's not crushed expecting 22 more pages like mine was): hold me. (Or let me hold a bonobo. Please, please, please!)

This review was originally posted on my blog, Beauty and the Bookshelf.
Profile Image for Gillian.
458 reviews1,079 followers
November 29, 2012
When I read a book, I like to read it like I think a writer should. That means I look out for structure, pacing, character develop, word usage. I try to read critically (you wouldn’t know it from looking at my most recent reviews, because I’ve been lucky enough to only read good books). I started Endangered like that: focused. Critical.

I ended it a sobbing mess.

For all reviewers like to dissect themes and metaphor and diction, the most important part of a book, for me, is how much you invest in what you’re reading. The characters and their (which become our) feelings. All of that is enhanced by brilliant line writing, it's true. But if the book makes me laugh out loud, it’s a win. If it makes me squeal, gasp, look away from the page so I can resume breathing, and burst into big fat baby tears, than it is a book that’s great. Endangered did all that and more.

The themes are gorgeous. Gorgeous, frightening, and powerful. Safety and friendship and humanity. Is it human to save yourself and let animals die? Is it human to give up your life for an animals? Sophie, the devoted heroine, is forced to wonder about all these things in truly harrowing or death situations.

The level of brutality in this wartime book is right on, causing just the right level of fear. The torn apart setting of the (not so) Democratic Republic of the Congo is a place rarely visited in young adult literature, and rarely visited so well. You can smell it and taste it. Parts of it are beautiful and brightly colored, but, as Sophie points out, one of the brightest colors of the color is red. Blood red.

There’s action. This is technically a thriller, fast paced, with gasp-inducing developments. It’s a lot more, though. It’s got heart too.

The heart of the book lies in Sophie’s relationship with Otto, the orphaned bonobo she takes under her wing. And it’s the strongest, most heart-wrenching, most touching relationship I’ve read about in ages. It’s stronger than most human relationships, and it’s what drives the story. Sophie matures from a naïve girl, slightly spoiled and aching for her mother’s attention, into a fiercely courageous young woman now a surrogate mother herself. The bonobos are as real as people. Even more so. Their feelings and actions are so vivid and complex. The author does a fantastic job of submerging yourself in their world.

Following Sophie and Otto through their perils was an interactive experience. I worried about them, cheered for them, cried for them. This is an absolutely must read for anyone looking for a real world book about love, animals, friendship, and war. And for people who need to learn more about how animals should be treated (go research bonobos and pledge yourself to their cause IMMEDIATELY). I’m completely in awe of this book. Excuse me while I go wipe my wet blotchy face and blow my nose.

Originally posted at Writer of Wrongs
Profile Image for Ed.
227 reviews12 followers
December 5, 2012
Schrefer, E. (2012). Endangered. New York: Scholastic Press. 264 pp. ISBN: 978-0-545-16576-1. (Hardcover); $17.99.

Bonobos! Who knew? Schrefer’s National Book Award nominated title features bonobos, a close relative to the chimpanzee and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a land torn by violence and corruption. While this book is fiction, it is based on the very real situation in the Congo and Schrefer’s research at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary.

Sophie is Congolese and American. Her mother loves her family, but her family is not as important to her as her work with the bonobos, which has driven her father away. Consequently, Sophie does not feel that she belongs anywhere. While visiting her mother at the sanctuary, she blunders her way into taking charge of Otto, a baby bonobo. Bonobos, unlike other apes, unlike chimpanzees, have a peaceful, matriarchal society. Babies do not do very well when separated from mom. When Sophie’s mother is forced to leave early to release bonobos back into the wild, Sophie is supposed to return to her father. When it comes time to leave, however, Sophie cannot bring herself to abandon Otto, knowing what this will mean to Otto who has come to think of her as his new mother. Instead of boarding the plane, Sophie bolts with Otto through the electrified fence into the bonobo sanctuary, a place that no one enters alone. Eventually rebels enter the nursery and kill the staff and many of the babies and newly rescued, quarantined bonobos. They cannot get to Sophie, however, because of the fence. When the electrified fence loses its charge, Sophie must figure out a way to find safety for herself and Otto. She is forced to run. In a land that has people killing and eating bonobos and selling babies on the black market, to say nothing of killing each other, where does one run? Schrefer exposes the political and ecological drama in a country that not many American students know anything about. One of the important questions considered in this white-knuckle drama, is the basic question of why one should care about a bonobo in a country that has so much poverty and pain. Read this story about Sophie and Otto and ask yourself whether you would have been able to abandon Otto. Caring is important and sometimes our hearts refuse to engage in qualitative arguments over the relative value of the object of our love and concern. Readers should be warned that they will fall in love with bonobos. While recognizing the plight of the humans, readers will also care about what happens to these peaceful animals. Perhaps the most important writing Schrefer does in this book is reinforce the fact that we must understand those whom we hope to help FIRST. This is an excellent blend of fiction and nonfiction. Purchase this one for both middle school and high school libraries. Here is a book that we can share with school life science departments.
Profile Image for Sandra.
254 reviews
April 12, 2013
I found out about this book when fellow educators had mentioned it on Twitter and then again during a conference workshop, so I could hardly wait to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, for me, it just did not live up to my expectations. I love the concept of it, and appreciate the fact that it doesn't shy away from difficult concepts as many young adult books tend to do, but the writing did not engage me. I thought that it lacked details and jumped from one event to the next without a whole lot of explanation. The people who worked in the bonobo sanctuary were alive one moment and then suddenly the reader finds out that they are dead. In a time of war, that is accurate to have happen, but I suppose I thought the grieving time for the main character, Sophie, would be a bit longer and that the recognition of these kind people being mercilessly killed would be greater. It lacked the compassion that I felt should have been there. The end of the book also jumped remarkably quickly from Sophie being a young teenager to all of a sudden going to college and then suddently being engaged with no real mention of her fiance or anything that had happened in between. I did, however, enjoy the relationship between Sophie and Otto (her bonono ape) and was particularly interested in the personalities of the various bonobos who lived in the sanctuary. As I told the students in my class (who are much to young to read this book themselves) it wasn't a "good-fit" for me. While others really enjoyed it, I wasn't dying to pick it up and read it all of the time which good fit books should make you want to do.
26 reviews7 followers
December 10, 2012
I received a copy of this book as a promo give away at the recent Publishing Perspectives/Scholastic conference: "YA- What's Next." I began reading it on the train as I headed home and could't put it down. I wish I had known how much I was going to enjoy it because Eliot Schrefer was at the conference - I would have asked him to sign my copy!

The story begins in the Congo with Sophie - a 14-year-old American. Her parents divorced and she moved back to the states with her father, but she summers in the Congo with her mother, who runs an Bonobos (ape) sanctuary. Although Sophie commits a terrible wrong-doing - she pays a trader for a small, near-death Bonobo. Sophie becomes quickly attached and all seems well until the country begins to crumble. Schrefer weaves an exciting and believable tale, documenting Sophie's flight from danger and her search for her mother.

Schrefer's prose are fluid and keep the reader fully entrenched in the novel. While he notes that the actual war he describes did not occur, he provides the reader with an incredible sense of just how unstable the Congo is and can be for those who live there.

While the sudden time shift at the very end is thrust upon the reader without warning, the last chapter brought closure for the reader and raised awareness for the emotional intelligence of these incredible creatures.

Although a YA book, I highly recommend this for all ages, and I can see this drama playing out on the big screen!

Profile Image for J L's Bibliomania.
366 reviews10 followers
May 30, 2015
Do you ever put down a book in disgust wanting to say to the main character "I can't believe you did something so impulsive and short-sighted" but at the same time knowing that sometimes without the apparently stupid act there would be no story? Such a moment comes about 1/3 of the way through Endangered when protagonist Sophie Biyoya-Ciardulli gets off the UN van that would have gotten her out of The Democratic Republic of Congo immediately after the coup in favor of staying with the orphaned bonobo infant that she has adopted. I actually walked away from the book for a few days before deciding to finish it.

It's a fine line of just how much detail to show when writing a book for middle grade and young adult readers about life in a war zone. Mr. Schrefer does a sensitive job of alluding to the horrors without making Endangered too graphic for the target audience. But at the same time Sophie is just a bit too lucky for the story to be entirely believable.

I can see Endangered being used to supplement Middle School humanities classes about African History or to fulfill the requirement for multicultural literature in a Language Arts class. The book was well received when first published in 2012 and made the short-list for a number of awards including the National Book Award. Reading as a adult, sometimes it feels like Mr. Schrefer is trying too hard to "hit the mark" to fit into that curriculum slot rather than writing compelling story for its own sake.
Profile Image for Valerie Smith.
50 reviews5 followers
September 8, 2012
A heart wrenching, action packed novel
Sophie travels to the Congo, where her mother runs a sanctuary for bonobos. Along the way, she meets Otto, a baby bonobo, and instantly connects with the abused and starving creature. Her love for bonobos and the sanctuary blossoms as she becomes the adoptive mother to Otto. Then war strikes and Sophie must flee unprepared with her only friend deep into the jungle. She must not only survive, but protect Otto as well. As they trek across the Congo, surrounded by conflict and despair, Sophie and Otto, depend on each other for survival.
Amid the horrors of war, Sophie finds love, friendship, and compassion. Through the tragedy of conflict and the poverty of the Congo, Sophie’s character explores kindness and sacrifice, and the depths of emotion humankind can reach when forced to survive.
Well written and thoughtful, Endangered provides a heart wrenching and action packed novel that readers of any age will enjoy.
Recommended for readers age 12-17, Endangered is scheduled for release October 1, 2012, bust is currently available from Scholastic in select bookfairs.
Endangered- Eliot Schrefer http://wp.me/p2E73h-aY
269 reviews4 followers
November 15, 2012
One issue I had was with the first person narration. I feel like I shouls have such a clearer picture of Sophie and what kind of person she is, but most of the time she came across as a typical stubborn, impulse decision making teenager. Also she was running around in the jungle in the middle of a dangerous political upheaval and the worst things that happened to her was being hungry and thirsty, a small barely breaking the skin bonobo bite, a leech and an itchy rash? It felt a little too pat to me, especially the ending.
It was, however, very well paced and written in a wonderfully readable and descriptive way. I could definitely picture the surroundings and bonobo behavior very clearly. I wanted to love it, especially with all these star reviews, but I guess I didn't get it. I love the light it sheds on a region that young readers, myself included, know little about. I did not love what came across to me as a lack of research. Why not place it within a frame of real events? If there are so many uprisings and wars, why did Schrefer need to make one up to write about?
Profile Image for Ian Tymms.
314 reviews19 followers
September 2, 2017
A confronting novel about protecting bonobos in the middle of war in the Congo. Schrefer pulls no punches in his descriptions of the violence and this is not a novel that every Middle School student will feel comfortable reading. There's nothing graphic but there are deaths and violence and suggestions of rape.

The violence is an important ingredient in building an understanding of the history and reality of war, poverty, exploitation and the issues faced by countries like the DRC - rich in resources and battered by a history of outside exploitation.

This is a book I hope many of my students will read. It will open their eyes a little further to the complexities and realities of exploitation and the reality of a world in which our prosperity is connected, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, to the exploitation of others.
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